Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Exploring the First Half

Half way through the term, and I’d say that we have accomplished quite a bit: two novels, 20 poems and two short stories. With one important novel remaining, there is no doubt that I have read more Spanish since second week of January than in all the years prior to the start of this term. So far, I really think the online blogs are an excellent way to communicate ideas regarding the literature. Before this course I had never used an online blog, and now I think that it is a great educational tool and an effective way to practice writing.

There is a noticeable transition from Spanish 364, where we studied mostly historical documents from colonial America, to Spanish 365, where the language is more sophisticated and also more open to interpretation. This progression and development in Spanish literature can also be seen within the works studied in this class, with significant changes in the language from Cumanda to Las memorias de Mama Blanca to Piedra Callada and Las Hortensias. From what I can tell, it seems that not only the language, but also the overall stories have increased in complexity and examine in more depth the emotional and social aspects of events. For instance, in Piedra Callada and Las Hortensias, the two most recent stories that we have interpreted, and also my favorite so far, controversial and somewhat twisted themes are revealed.

In all of the works that we have studied so far a variety of key themes arise. La Familia and everything to do with family is visited in most of the works, especially in Las Memorias de Mama Blanca and Piedra Callada (we also wrote our first blog about family). Even Las Hortensias examined a warped and convoluted idea of a family, where the dolls can be treated as the desperate couple’s very own children, or possibly where the lack of a family is considered. However, it is hard to argue that Neruda’s poems are concerned with the workings of family.

The role of women could also be an overlying theme of these works. In all the literature that we have interpreted to date, female characters have played different roles, where they have been treated differently and where different social attitudes are presented. Cumanda, for instance, illustrated how a young ‘indigenous’ woman was the link between two cultures, until she was dramatically sacrificed to the gods. In Pablo Neruda’s poetry, he suffered continuously from his intense passion and his fierce desire for women. Las memorias de Mama Blanca examined the life of a young girl who grew up in a very feminine world and Piedra Callada shocked us with the violent actions of the mother, where her strength, determination and conniving behaviour are emphasized when she murdered Bernabe. And finally, Las Hortensias could be seen as a story where women are presented as physical objects that can be easily manipulated by their ‘owner’.

There is without a doubt a wide variety of individual themes examined within each of the novels or short stories, and there most likely are many other overall themes connecting all the works. At any rate, these stories are, as always, open to a multitude of interpretations.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Survival of the Fittest

I can only imagine how controversial Brunet’s story must have been when it was written. The slightest notion that Eufrasia, an old woman could undermine Bernabe, the father and rightful ‘master’ of the household, and successfully seize control of his children, brings about a multitude of social issues regarding gender and class.

One must realize that this most likely would not have occurred at that time period. It is possible that the mother could even be viewed as some sort of twisted heroin, rather than the father as I previously mentioned, because she was capable of dominating the family in a paternal society. Even murdering Bernabe could be considered a victory for women, because this reflects exactly what we discussed in class, where Bernabe and Eufrasia were pitted against each other in a battle of survival of the fittest.

Darwin, no doubt, would have agreed with the events of this story, had the characters been replaced with insects. It is a completely natural occurrence, where the mother praying mantis devours the father in order to protect the young. However, it is somewhat unlikely that Darwin, and other men from a male dominated society, would accept the fact that Bernabe was essentially ‘devoured’ by Mother Eufrasia.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


I suppose Esperanza’s mother was right after all; Bernabé would have been an awful husband. At least this is the initial feeling I had after witnessing Bernabé’s atrocious behaviour and violent actions. However, were these the reasons why Eufrasia did not want Bernabé to marry Esperanza, or were the reason more to do with social class and money?

Esperanza, the ‘hijuela Primera’, was essentially a new hope for this depressed family. She had the potential, according to her mother, to turn things around by finding a good man with ‘mayores posibilidades’ than the average peasant or labourer. Esperanza’s mother threatened to disown her if she should marry this brutish man. Then, quite suddenly, Esperanza fell terribly ill and died. With this poor family left in shock, Bernabé transformed into a monster and physically attacked both the grandmother and Venancia. This angry rampage is cut short, when Bernabé is struck dead with a stone to the head by the mother.

It is somewhat hard to determine whom we should sympathize with in this tragic series of events. We discussed this in class, looking at both Esperanza and her mother as victims. Esperanza, who was not permitted to marry Bernabé, is removed from the story so quickly, that I do not see her as that important a character. Mother Eufrasia, on the other hand, has worked so hard her entire life, and wanted nothing more than to see her eldest daughter succeed, is sadly left in the same pathetic place as she started. Venancia and the children are also victims, of poverty and of abuse.

This leaves only Bernabé, who is the absolute least likely person one would sympathize with. I would never attempt to argue that he behaved in a reasonable way, nor would I defend his actions, however, Bernabé is what I consider a tragic hero. He desired only to live happily with Esperanza, whom he evidently loved, and to have children of his own. Bernabé was clearly not an educated fellow, nor did he have a promising job, and Esperanza’s mother surely did not respect him. Esperanza’s death left Bernabé in ruins and with nothing worth living for. At this point, Bernabé resorted to the type of behaviour he knew best, that of a savage animal and most likely the product of a rough childhood. Bernabé sought to control the family, possibly in a desperate attempt to have his own family in the void left by Esperanza’s passing.

Regardless of his motives, this ruthless tyrant portrays men as cruel beasts, which might not be that far from the truth in many cases. Bernabé’s death unfortunately provokes a sigh of relief from the reader (at least I was relieved when the stone hit his skull) because the family was saved. However, one cannot help but pity this pitiful creature.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Vicente Cochocho

Vicente Cochocho, una figura masculina en este cosmos feminino de Blanca Nieves, era un zambo, de sangre indigena y negra. Su espiritu hermano era “fuerte por la experiencia” y estaba “adornado de conocimientos” en filosofia y en ciencias naturales, que refletaban su inteligencia de profesor. Vicente hablaba de una manera differente de los otros, porque se usaba una lenguaje antigua con palabras del siglo XVI. Esta lenguaje demuestra su rusticidad y su posicion baja en la sociedad. Tambien, cuando hablaba a las ninas, que eran las princesas de Piedra Azul, Vicente les trataba de tu. Las ninas eran tan interesada de Vicente, y le gustaban mucho.

Podemos ver en la tercera parte del capitulo sobre Vicente Cochocho, una lista de todas las habilidades de este hombre. Por ejemplo, “a mas de ser maestro en filosfia y ciencias naturales… de ser tocador de maracas, paleador de la acequia, emburrador del trapiche y deshierbador de lajas, Vicente era el medico, el boticario y el agente de las pompas funebres en Piedra Azul”. Aunque Vicente era tan importante en la haciende, Evelyn se prohibia a las ninitas hablar con o ver Vicente por varias razones. Evelyn era una mulata inglesa de la isla de Trinidad que tenia tres cuartos de sangre blanca, y desafortunadamente según ella, un cuarto de sangre negra. Es importante que preguntemos porque Evelyn era tan contra la presencia de Vicente?

Primero, la descriminacion contra Vicente a causa de su raza representa la complejidad de las relaciones entre los varios grupos en la epoca. Como pueden recordar, hemos hablado en clase sobre las diferencias sociales entre cada grupo basada sobre la sangre. En este ejemplo, Vicente, un zambo, seria sin duda consideraba inferior a Evelyn, una mulata.

Hay tambien otra razon para explicar el maltratamiento de Vicente. En este mundo feminino de Blanca Nieves, los hombres eran pohibidos. Este idea representa los sentimientos de Teresa de la Parra en casi toda la novela, donde los hombros no estaban incluidos en este mundo exclusivo de las mujeres.

El papel de este hombre inteligencia y habil en las vidas de las ninitas se terminaba tristamente despues de un argumento acalorado con Don Juan Manuel. Vicente fue insultado severamente que reletaba todavia la ausencia de respecta. Es interesante que Vicente fuera tan importante en las vidas de las ninas, porque es como Vicente era una mejor figura paternal que Don Juan Manuel. Es posible que Teresa de la Parra incluyera este hombre para ilustrar las descriminaciones racistas.